Robert Hooke

Infobox Scientist
name = Robert Hooke
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image_width = 300px
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birth_date = birth date|1635|7|18
birth_place = Freshwater, Isle of Wight, England
death_date = death date and age|1703|03|03|1635|07|18
death_place = London, England
residence =
citizenship =
nationality =
ethnicity =
fields =
workplaces =
alma_mater =
doctoral_advisor =
academic_advisors = Robert Boyle
doctoral_students =
notable_students =
known_for = Hooke's Law
influences = Richard Busby
influenced =
prizes =
footnotes =

Robert Hooke, FRS (18 July 1635 – 3 March 1703) was an English natural philosopher and polymath who played an important role in the scientific revolution, through both experimental and theoretical work.

Hooke is known principally for his law of elasticity (Hooke's Law). He is also remembered for his work as "the father of microscopy" — it was Hooke who coined the term "cell" to describe the basic unit of life — he also assisted Robert Boyle and built the vacuum pumps used in Boyle's gas law experiments. Hooke was an important architect of his time, and a chief surveyor to the City of London after the Great Fire, built some of the earliest Gregorian telescopes, observed the rotations of Mars and Jupiter, and was an early proponent of the theory of evolution through his observations of microscopic fossils. He investigated the phenomenon of refraction, deducing the wave theory of light, and was the first to suggest that matter expands when heated and that air is made of small particles separated by relatively large distances. He also deduced from experiments that gravity follows an inverse square law, and that such a relation governs the motions of the planets, an idea which was subsequently developed by Newton. [Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition, vol.6 p. 44] Much of Hooke's work was conducted in his capacity as curator of experiments of the Royal Society, a post he held from 1662.

Hooke was, by all accounts, a remarkably industrious man, and was at one time simultaneously the curator of the Royal Society and a member of its council, Gresham Professor of Geometry and Chief Surveyor to the City of London.

Hooke's reputation was largely forgotten during the eighteenth century, and this is popularly attributed to a dispute with Isaac Newton over credit for his work on gravitation; Newton, as President of the Royal Society, did much to obscure Hooke, including, it is said, destroying (or failing to preserve) the only known portrait of the man. Hooke's reputation was revived during the twentieth century through studies of Robert Gunther and Margaret 'Espinasse, and after a long period of relative obscurity he is now recognised as one of the most important scientists of his age.


Much of what is known of Hooke's early life comes from an autobiography that he commenced in 1696, but did not complete. This was referenced by Richard Waller in his introduction to the "The Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke, M.D. S.R.S.", printed in 1705. The work of Waller, along with John Ward's "Lives of the Gresham Professors" and John Aubrey's "Brief Lives", form the major near-contemporaneous biographical accounts of Hooke.

Early life

Robert Hooke was born in 1635 in Freshwater on the Isle of Wight to John Hooke and Cecily Gyles. Robert was the last of four children, two sons and two daughters, and there was an age difference of seven years between him and the next youngest. Their father ecclesiastically served the Church of England, specifically as the curate of Freshwater's Church of All Saints; his three brothers were also ministers. Robert Hooke was expected to succeed in his education and join the Church.

John Hooke also was in charge of a local school, and so was able to teach Robert, at least partly at home perhaps due to the boy's frail health. He was a Royalist and almost certainly one of a groups who went to pay their respects to Charles II when he escaped to the Isle of Wight. Robert, too, grew up to be a staunch monarchist.

As a youth, Robert Hooke was fascinated by observation, mechanical works, and drawing, interests that would be pursued in various ways throughout his life. He dismantled a brass clock and built a wooden replica that, by all accounts, worked "well enough", and he learned to draw, making his own materials from coal, chalk and ruddle.

On his father's death in 1648, Robert was left a sum of one hundred pounds that enabled him to buy an apprenticeship; with his poor health throughout his life but evident mechanical facility his father had it in mind that he might become a watchmaker or limner, though Hooke was also interested in painting. Hooke was an apt student, so although he went to London to take up an apprenticeship, and studied briefly with Samuel Cowper and Peter Lely, he was soon able to enter Westminster School in London, under Dr. Busby, where he lodged his hundred pounds. Hooke quickly mastered Latin and Greek, made some study of Hebrew, and mastered Euclid's "Elements". Here, too, he embarked on his life-long study of mechanics.

Oxford, Boyle

In 1653, Hooke (who had also undertaken a course of twenty lessons on the organ) secured a chorister's place at Christ Church, Oxford. [cite book | last = Jardine | first = Lisa | authorlink = | title = The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man who Measured London | publisher = Harper Collins Publishers | year = 2003 | location = New York | pages = 65 | isbn = 0-00-714944-1] There he met the natural philosopher Robert Boyle, and gained employment as his assistant from about 1655 to 1662, constructing, operating, and demonstrating Boyle's air pump. He did not take his Master of Arts until 1662 or 1663. In 1659 Hooke described some elements of a method of heavier-than-air flight to the Warden of Wadham College, but concluded that human muscles were insufficient to the task.

Hooke began to be noticed around 1655, at that time a gathering of erudite men would take place in Oxford that was devoted to the study and demonstration of various elements of natural philosophy. These individuals held "philosophical meetings", of which few records survive except for the experiments Boyle conducted in 1658 and published in 1660. This group went on to form the nucleus of the Royal Society. Hooke developed an air pump for these experiments based on the pump of Gratorix, which was considered, in Hooke's words, "too gross to perform any great matter." [cite journal | author = Fulton, John F. | title = The Honourable Robert Boyle, F.R.S. (1627 - 1692) | journal = Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London | year = 1960 | volume = 15| pages = 119 – 135 | doi = 10.1098/rsnr.1960.0012 - See especially page 123.]

It is known that Hooke had a particularly keen eye, and was an adept mathematician, neither of which applied to Boyle. Gunther suggests that Hooke probably made the observations and may well have developed the mathematics of Boyle's Law. Regardless, it is clear that Hooke was a valued assistant to Boyle and the two retained a mutual high regard.

Watch escapement

In 1655, according to his autobiographical notes, Hooke began to acquaint himself with astronomy, through the good offices of John Ward. Hooke applied himself to the improvement of the pendulum and in 1657 or 1658, he began to improve on pendulum mechanisms, studying the work of Riccioli, and going on to study both gravitation and the mechanics of timekeeping. Hooke recorded that he conceived of a way to determine longitude (then a critical problem for navigation), and with the help of Boyle and others he attempted to patent it. In the process, Hooke demonstrated a pocket-watch of his own devising, fitted with a coil spring attached to the arbour of the balance. Hooke's ultimate failure to secure sufficiently lucrative terms for the exploitation of this idea resulted in its being shelved, and evidently caused him to become more jealous of his inventions. There is substantial evidence to state with reasonable confidence, as Ward, Aubrey, Waller and others all do, that at the very least Hooke developed the spring escapement independently of and some fifteen years before Huygens, who published his own work in "Journal de Scavans" in February of 1675. Henry Sully, writing in Paris in 1717, described the watch escapement as "an admirable invention of which Dr. Hook, formerly professor of geometry in Gresham College at London, was the inventor." ["Regle artificielle des tems, par H Sully", ch. 1, p. 14, Paris, 1717] Derham also attributes it to Hooke. ["The artificial clock maker", Derham, 1734, p.97]

Royal Society

The Royal Society was founded in 1660, and in April 1661 the society debated a short tract on the rising of water in slender glass pipes, in which Hooke reported that the height water rose was related to the bore of the pipe (due to what is now termed capillary action). His explanation of this phenomenon was subsequently published in "Micrography Observ." issue 6, in which he also explored the nature of "the fluidity of gravity". On November 5, 1661, Sir Robert Moray proposed that a Curator be appointed to furnish the society with Experiments, and this was unanimously passed with Hooke being named. His appointment was made on 12 November, with thanks recorded to Dr. Boyle for releasing him to the Society's employment.

In 1664, Sir John Cutler settled an annual gratuity of fifty pounds on the Society for the founding of a "Mechanick Lecture", and the Fellows appointed Hooke to this task. On June 27 1664 he was confirmed to the office, and on 11 January 1665 was named "Curator by Office" for life with an additional salary of £30 to Cutler's annuity. [Sir John Cutler and Hooke were at odds in the following years over monies due to Hooke. Following Cutler's death, Hooke enlisted the aid of friends of the Cutler family, including Master of The Haberdashers Company Sir Richard Levett, for whom Hooke was involved in a building commission, to help recover the funds owed by Cutler. [,M1] ]

Hooke's role at the Royal Society was to demonstrate experiments from his own methods or at the suggestion of members. Among his earliest demonstrations were discussions of the nature of air, the implosion of glass bubbles which had been sealed with comprehensive hot air, and demonstrating that the "Pabulum vitae" and "flammae" were one and the same. He also demonstrated that a dog could be kept alive with its thorax opened, provided air was pumped in and out of its lungs, and noting the difference between venous and arterial blood. There were also experiments on the subject of gravity, the falling of objects, the weighing of bodies and measuring of barometric pressure at different heights, and pendulums up to 200ft long.

Instruments were devised to measure a second of arc in the movement of the sun or other stars, to measure the strength of gunpowder, and in particular an engine to cut teeth for watches, much finer than could be managed by hand, an invention which was, by Hooke's death, in constant use. [Waller]

In 1663 and 1664 Hooke produced his microscopical observations, subsequently collated in "Micrographia" in 1665.

On March 20, 1664, Hooke succeeded Arthur Dacres as Gresham Professor of Geometry.

Personality and disputes

Much has been written about the unpleasant side of Hooke's personality, starting with comments by his first biographer, Richard Waller, that Hooke was "in person, but despicable" and "melancholy, mistrustful, and jealous." [Citation | first = Robert | last = Hooke | editor-last = Waller | editor-first = Richard | title = The Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke | year = 1705 | place = London | publisher = ] Waller's comments influenced other writers for well over two centuries, so that a picture of Hooke as a disgruntled, selfish, anti-social curmudgeon dominates many older books and articles. For example, Arthur Berry said that Hooke "claimed credit for most of the scientific discoveries of the time." [cite book | last = Berry | first = Arthur | title = A Short History of Astronomy | publisher = John Murray | location = London | year = 1898 | pages = 221- See also the reprint published by Dover in 1961] Sullivan wrote that Hooke was "positively unscrupulous" and possessing an "uneasy apprehensive vanity" in dealings with Newton. [cite book | last = Sullivan | first = J. W. N. | title = Isaac Newton 1642–1727 | publisher = Macmillan | location = New York | year = 1938 | pages = 35 – 37] Manuel used the phrase "cantankerous, envious, vengeful" in his description. [cite book | last = Manuel | first = Frank E. | title = A Portrait of Isaac Newton | publisher = Harvard University Press | location = Cambridge, Massachusetts | year = 1968 | pages = 138] More described Hooke having both a "cynical temperament" and a "caustic tongue." [cite book | last = More | first = Louis Trenchard. | title = Isaac Newton | publisher = Charles Schribner's Sons | location = New York | year = 1934 | pages = 94 – 95] Andrade was more sympathetic, but still used the adjectives "difficult", "suspicious", and "irritable" in describing Hooke. [cite book | last = Andrarde | first = E. N. De C. | title = Isaac Newton | publisher = Chanticleer Press | location = New York | year = 1950 | pages = 56 – 57]

The publication of Hooke's diary in 1935 [Citation | first = Robert | last = Hooke | editor-last = Robinson | editor-first = H. W. | editor2-last = Adams | editor2-first = W. | title = The Diary of Robert Hooke, M.A., M.D., F.R.S., 1672-1680 | year = 1935 | place = London | publisher = Taylor & Francis ] revealed other sides of the man that 'Espinasse, in particular, has detailed carefully. She writes that "the picture which is usually painted of Hooke as a morose and envious recluse is completely false.". [cite book | last = 'Espinasse | first = Margaret | authorlink = | title = Robert Hooke | publisher = William Heinemann Ltd. | year = 1956 | location = London | pages = 106 ] Hooke interacted with noted craftsmen such as Thomas Tompion, the clockmaker, and Christopher Cocks (Cox), an instrument maker. Hooke met often with Christopher Wren, with whom he shared many interests, and had a lasting friendship with John Aubrey. Hooke's diaries also make frequent reference to meetings at coffeehouses and taverns, and to dinners with Robert Boyle. He took tea on many occasions with his lab assistant, Harry Hunt. Within his family, Hooke took both a niece and a cousin into his home, teaching them mathematics.

Robert Hooke spent his life largely on the Isle of Wight, at Oxford, and in London. He never married, but his diary shows that he was not without affections, and more, for others. On 3 March 1703, Hooke died in London, having amassed a sizable sum of money, which was found in his room at Gresham College. He was buried at St Helen's Bishopsgate, but the precise location of his grave is unknown.

There is little doubt that Hooke was prone to intellectual jealousy. His disputes with Newton over credit for work on gravitation and the planets, and with Oldenburg over credit for the watch escapement, are but two well-known examples, and he was apt to use ciphers and guard his ideas. As curator of Experiments to the Royal Society he was responsible for demonstrating many ideas sent in to the Society, and there is evidence that he would subsequently assume some credit for these ideas. Hooke also was immensely busy and thus unable – or in some cases unwilling, pending a way of profiting from the enterprise via letters patent – to develop all of his own ideas. This was a time of immense scientific progress, and numerous ideas were developed in several places simultaneously.

None of this should distract from Hooke's inventiveness, his remarkable experimental facility, and his capacity for hard work, and neither should his false claims of priority be ignored as a grave flaw in his character. He was granted a large number of patents for inventions and refinements in the fields of elasticity, optics, and barometry.

Hooke the scientist


In 1660, Hooke discovered the law of elasticity which bears his name and which describes the linear variation of tension with extension in an elastic spring. He first described this discovery in the anagram "ceiiinosssttuv", whose solution he published in 1678 as "Ut tensio, sic vis" meaning "As the extension, so the force." Hooke's work on elasticity culminated, for practical purposes, in his development of the balance spring or hairspring, which for the first time enabled a portable timepiece - a watch - to keep time with reasonable accuracy. A bitter dispute between Hooke and Christiaan Huygens on the priority of this invention was to continue for centuries after the death of both; but a note dated 12 June 1670 in the Hooke Folio (see "External links" below), describing a demonstration of a balance-controlled watch before the Royal Society, has been held to favour Hooke's claim.It is interesting from a twentieth-century vantage point that Hooke first announced his law of elasticity as an anagram. This was a method sometimes used by scientists, such as Hooke, Huygens, Galileo, and others, to establish priority for a discovery without revealing details.

Hooke became Curator of Experiments in 1662 to the newly founded Royal Society, and took responsibility for experiments performed at its weekly meetings. This was a position he held for over 40 years. While this position kept him in the thick of science in Britain and beyond, it also led to some heated arguments with other scientists, such as Huygens (see above) and particularly with Isaac Newton and the Royal Society's Henry Oldenburg. In 1664 Hooke also was appointed Professor of Geometry at Gresham College in London and Cutlerian Lecturer in Mechanics. [cite book | last = 'Espinasse | first = Margaret | authorlink = | title = Robert Hooke | publisher = William Heinemann Ltd. | year = 1956 | location = London | pages = 187 ]


In 1665 Hooke published "Micrographia", a book describing his microscopic and telescopic observations, and some original work in biology. Hooke coined the term "cell" for describing biological organisms, the term being suggested by the resemblance of plant cells to monks' cells. The hand-crafted, leather and gold-tooled microscope he used to make the observations for "Micrographia", originally constructed by Christopher White in London, is on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, DC.

"Micrographia" also contains Hooke's, or perhaps Boyle and Hooke's, ideas on combustion. Hooke's experiments led him to conclude that combustion involves a substance that is mixed with air, a statement with which modern scientists would agree, but that was not widely understood, if at all, in the seventeenth century. Hooke went on to conclude that respiration also involves a specific component of the air. [See particularly Observation 16 of "Micrographia".] Partington even goes so far as to claim that if "Hooke had continued his experiments on combustion it is probable that he would have discovered oxygen". [cite book | author = Partington, J. P. | title = A Short History of Chemistry | year = 1951 | edition = 2| publisher = Macmillan and Company | location = London | pages = 78 – 80 ]


One of the more-challenging problems tackled by Hooke was the measurement of the distance to a star (other than the Sun). The star chosen was Gamma Draconis and the method to be used was parallax determination. After several months of observing, in 1669, Hooke believed that the desired result had been achieved. It is now known that Hooke's equipment was far too imprecise to allow the measurement to succeed. [cite book | author = Hirshfeld, Alan W. | title = Parallax, The Race to Measure the Cosmos | year = 2001| publisher = W. H. Freeman | location = New York | pages = 144 – 149 ] Gamma Draconis was the same star William Bradley used in 1725 in discovering the aberration of light.

Hooke's activities in astronomy extended beyond the study of stellar distance. His "Micrographia" contains illustrations of the Pleiades star cluster as well as of lunar craters. He performed experiments to study how such craters might have formed. [cite book | author = Ashbrook, Joseph | title = The Astronomical Scrapbook | year = 1984 | place = Cambridge, Massachusetts | publisher = Sky Publishing Corporation | pages = 240 – 241 ] Hooke also was an early observer of the rings of Saturn, [ cite book | author = Alexander, A. F. O'D. | title = The Planet Saturn | year = 1962 | place = Londin | publisher = Faber and Faber Limited | pages = 108 – 109 ] and discovered one of the first double-star systems, Gamma Arietis, in 1664. [cite book | author = Aitken, Robert G. | title = The Binary Stars | year = 1935 | place = New York | publisher = McGraw-Hill | pages = 1 ]

On 8 July 1680, Hooke observed the nodal patterns associated with the modes of vibration of glass plates. He ran a bow along the edge of a glass plate covered with flour, and saw the nodal patterns emerge. [ Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni] , [ Institute for Learning Technologies] , Columbia University] Pg 101 Oxford Dictionary of Scientists- Oxford University Press- 1999]

Hooke the architect

, whose dome uses a method of construction conceived by Hooke.

In the reconstruction after the Great Fire, Hooke proposed redesigning London's streets on a grid pattern with wide boulevards and arteries, a pattern subsequently used in the renovation of Paris, Liverpool, and many American cities. This proposal was thwarted by arguments over property rights, as property owners were surreptitiously shifting their boundaries. Hooke was in demand to settle many of these disputes, due to his competence as a surveyor and his tact as an arbitrator.

For an extensive study of Hooke's architectural work, see the book by Cooper. [cite book | last = Cooper | first = Michael | authorlink = | title = 'A More Beautiful City': Robert Hooke and the Rebuilding of London after the Great Fire | publisher = Sutton Publishing Ltd. | year = 2003 | location = | pages = | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 0-75-092-959-0]


No authenticated portrait of Robert Hooke exists, a situation sometimes attributed to the heated conflicts between Hooke and Isaac Newton. In Hooke's time, the Royal Society met at Gresham College, but within a few months of Hooke's death Newton became the Society's president and plans were laid for a new meeting place. When the move to new quarters finally was made a few years later, in 1710, Hooke's Royal Society portrait went missing, and has yet to be found.

"Time" magazine published a portrait, supposedly of Hooke, in its 3 July 1939 issue. However, when the source was traced by Ashley Montagu, it was found to lack a verifiable connection to Hooke. Moreover, Montagu found that contemporary written descriptions of Hooke's appearance agreed with one another, but that neither matched "Time"'s alleged picture of him. [cite journal | author = Montagu, M. F. Ashley | title = A Spurious Portrait of Robert Hooke (1635 - 1703) | journal = Isis | volume = 33 | year = 1941 | pages = 15 – 17 | doi = 10.1086/358521 See also the July 3, 1939 issue of "Time" (page 39).]

In 2003, historian Lisa Jardine claimed that a recently-discovered portrait was of Hooke [cite book | last = Jardine | first = Lisa | title = The Curious Life of Robert Hooke | publisher = Harper Collins | year = 2003 | pages = 15-19 ] , but this claim was disproved by William Jensen of the University of Cincinnati and by the German researcher Andreas Pechtl of Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. [See ] The portrait identified by Jardine, in fact, depicts the Flemish scholar Jan Baptist van Helmont.

Other possible likenesses of Hooke include the following:

* A seal used by Hooke displays an unusual profile portrait of a man's head, which some have argued portrays Hooke.

* The engraved frontispiece to the 1728 edition of Chambers' "Cyclopedia" shows a drawing of a bust of Robert Hooke. [See ] The extent to which the drawing is based on an actual work of art is unknown.

* A memorial window [ [ Robert Hooke ] ] existed at St Helen's Bishopsgate in London, but it was a formulaic rendering, not a likeness. The window was destroyed in the 1993 Bishopsgate bombing.


* Craters on the Moon and on Mars are named in his honour.
* 3514 Hooke, an asteroid (1971 UJ)
* [ The Hooke Medal]
* Robert Hooke Science center St. John Smith Square Westminster School London

See also

* Anchor escapement
* Catenary
* Elasticity (physics)
* Great red spot
* List of astronomical instrument makers
* Mechanics
* Optical microscope
* Reticle (crosshair)
* Sash window
* Shadowgraph
* The Boyle-Hooke plaque in Oxford
* Universal joint


Further reading









*(privately printed, 1923-67)


* Hooke, Robert (1635-1703). [ "Micrographia: or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and inquiries thereupon..."]


*(Published in the USA as "The Forgotten Genius")




External links

* [ The Monument - Dr. Robert Hooke]
* [ Robert Hooke] , hosted by Westminster School
* [ Hooke's "Micrographia"] , at Project Gutenberg
* [ A timeline of Hooke's life]
* [ "England's Leonardo"] , a lecture on Robert Hooke
* [ An engraved bust] of Robert Hooke
* [ Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke]
* [ The Hooke Folio] , a lost manuscript
* [,,1705687,00.html Lost manuscript of Robert Hooke discovered] – from The Guardian
* [,,1741992,00.html Manuscript bought for The Royal Society] – from The Guardian
* " [ Exploring our archives] ", a blog by researchers at the Royal Society exploring Hooke's lost manuscript

NAME=Hooke, Robert
SHORT DESCRIPTION=polymath, physicist
DATE OF BIRTH=1635-07-18
PLACE OF BIRTH=Freshwater, Isle of Wight, England
DATE OF DEATH=1703-03-03
PLACE OF DEATH=London, England

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